Why Robin Williams Wasn't Allowed To Audition For Harry Potter

It has been 20 years since the first "Harry Potter" film introduced young wizards (and the greatest witch of her age) Harry, Ron, and Hermione to us! J.K. Rowling's series of fantasy novels has transformed into one of the biggest media franchises in the world today, spawning an acclaimed eight-film adaptation, amusement parks, a five-part movie spin-off, and a Broadway play among other cool things.

"Harry Potter" has been popular since the first book was released in 1997. So, when it was time for the big screen adaptation, it doesn't come as a surprise that actors across the world were keen on joining the wizarding world. From Hugh Grant to Robin Williams, some of the film industry's biggest names were interested in playing a character in the films.

Like Grant, several actors who were being considered for roles in "Harry Potter" had to back out due to scheduling conflicts or projects that they had previously committed to. Robin Williams, with his family-friendly reputation and impeccable talent for comedy, seems like a natural choice for the franchise. But despite his many talents, Williams wasn't even given the chance to audition for a role.

Robin Williams Wasn't Allowed To Audition For This Reason

American actor Robin Williams starred in over 80 movies during his Hollywood career and is celebrated for his range of performances. In "Dead Poets Society," he portrayed John Keating, a teacher with an inspiring and unconventional mind. In "Mrs. Doubtfire," Williams was a master of physical comedy, which made the movie a story for generations.

The late actor is one of the most beloved and versatile performers of his time, but that wasn't enough to earn him a role in "Harry Potter." Williams wasn't given a chance to audition, because the film's producers and author J.K. Rowling had decided the franchise would only feature British and Irish actors. That rule stayed in place until "Fantastic Beasts," the film's spin-off franchise, which cast American actors such as Johnny Depp and Zoë Kravitz.

Which Characters Did Robin Williams Want to Play?

There were two "Harry Potter" characters Robin Williams was vying to play. One of them was Rubeus Hagrid (played in the films by Robbie Coltrane), the half-giant and half-human gamekeeper and Keeper of Keys and Grounds of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The actor was also interested in portraying Remus Lupin (David Thewlis), a werewolf, and the friend of James Potter and Sirius Black. Lupin was the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor in "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban."

Chris Columbus, the director of the first two "Harry Potter" films, worked with Robin Williams on "Mrs. Doubtfire" in 1993. But regardless of Williams' interest to star in the films as Hagrid, Columbus had to turn him down because of the film's all-British casting rule.

In 2016, "Harry Potter" casting director Janet Hirshenson revealed to Huffington Post that Williams had reached out to Chris Columbus, because he "really wanted to be in the movie."

"It was a British-only edict," she said. "And once he said no to Robin, he wasn't going to say yes to anybody else, that's for sure. It couldn't be," added Hirshenson.

During an interview with Total Film in October 2021, Columbus reflected on having a difficult conversation with Williams. "That was the goal. No American actors in this film. ... I had a conversation with Robin Williams, who wanted to play Lupin. It was very difficult for me to say 'It's all British. There's nothing I can do.'"

The filmmaker revisited his statement a month later, in conversation with Insider. The director expressed that Robin Williams would have been "brilliant" as Remus Lupin.

"Robin would have been brilliant. It would have been a different interpretation — I thought David Thewlis was great — but Robin would have been brilliant," he shared.

Robbie Coltrane and David Thewlis' iteration of Hagrid and Lupin was faithful to the books, so it is hard to envision what it would be like if other actors were considered for these roles. Robin Williams, however, proved he could be anyone on screen, so turning him away feels like a missed opportunity.